Monica Straughan graduated with an MA in English, and is now the Chief Officer Strategic Communications at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
Was getting a degree in English from Dundee a major turning point in my life? Absolutely! Let me expand...
When I first came to the University I was a mature student, and I'd had a nine year 'career break' to be a full time mother. I had been a journalist before the girls were born, and I suppose I had a vague desire to have a career in something akin to that. But other than a fierce desire for intellectual stimulation I don't think I had any real plan for what I wanted to do, or any real confidence in my ability to do it.
I was very fortunate with timing, because my search for new career path coincided with the early days of the University's 'return to studies' programme for mature students. This gave me the chance gently to reintroduce myself to the art of studying via a part time course in arts and social sciences. I discovered that I could read books, write essays, pass exams and argue the toss with the best of them. I also forged some strong and lasting friendships with some fellow mature students who, like me, went on to do full time degrees. We went on to found the mature students society and to become collectively known, I am told, as the 'vociferous bulge' (because we were the first largish group of mature students in the Arts faculty, and we weren't exactly shy and retiring).
When it came to launching myself into full time study I deliberated long and hard about what subject to choose as my major. In the end I plumped for English, for reasons I find easier to articulate now than I did then. I knew would enjoy it, I thought I could do it reasonably well, I'd always loved language and literature, and if I knew one thing about the world, it was that the ability to use words well matters in every walk of life.
Nothing in my working life has disabused me of that belief. Every organisation I have worked for, and worked with, be it government, business, industry, academia, pressure group, charity or media outlet, has one thing in common: the need to communicate effectively. And there are surprisingly few people out there who can do that! Using the right words in the right way is our species' most powerful weapon. Studying English teaches you to use words and to recognise how they are being used; to question an author's motives and understand how fluid and flexible language can be; to see how words, well used, can corrupt or inform or inspire. The critical analysis you learn to apply to everything from novels and literary criticism to plays, poetry and movies will equip you well for the big wide world. And perhaps you might even learn grammar and spelling along the way, and be able to put a case (on any subject) forward clearly and concisely. Believe me, these are rare and precious skills in today's world, and they are in great demand with every employer.
The University of Dundee gave me two big breaks - it welcomed me as a mature student and it provided me with an opportunity to study English. I haven't looked back since. So, dear reader, if you're thinking of doing either, or both, take this as a hearty recommendation from me.